Ed. Note: I hope to have these done in more timely fashion this year. Thank you for your patience for the lateness of this one. On that same note, if you have any suggestions for things you'd like to see tracked/covered in these pieces, please do let me know.
If you opened the boxscore on Sunday morning having watched none of the game, you'd think LSU engaged in a tough, hard fought victory while outplaying Wisconsin. Not only did the Tigers score more, they gained more yardage, posted a higher yards per play, turned it over less, and won time of possession. That's a formula you'd think would add up to a pretty clean victory. Instead, LSU fought like hell to come back from a 17-point deficit with only 25-ish minutes remaining in the game.
The primary culprit of the deficit would be the young offense we all figured would struggle to find its way at the beginning of the season. There were missed assignments, botched play calls, communication breakdowns and just a general oh-shit-its-football-season-ness to the whole thing. Watching the offense grind to a slow halt in the first half... repeatedly, threw LSU fans back to a wasteland of Crowtonia they'd prefer to never visit again.
Yet, by the mid 3rd quarter, things started to turn. Slowly LSU began to connect on some passes and the running game kept chipping away. By the 4th quarter, LSU began taking significant chunks of yardage, moving along as if they hadn't skipped a beat from 2013, though only looking slightly different doing so.
The offense looked best when it moved into 3-WR sets and utilized a spread rushing attack. Spielman wisely noted that that personnel grouping forced Wisconsin into shifting into their nickel personnel, pulling one of their best LBs off the field and going into two DL. This is truly where LSU found success running the football. Add to that that Jennings just looked infinitely more comfortable operating from the shotgun, and I think it's a good bet we see a heavier dosage of this going forward.
The performance proved to be enough, but enough is not going to be good enough to propel this team into the SEC title, much less the CFB playoff.
Jennings: Highs and lows. During the Iowa game, when Jennings hit a rough patch, you could visibly see him fold. Sure, he kept trotting out there, but it was clear his confidence and direction were gone. After the first half vs. Wisconsin, many of us likely figured to see the same folding. Even early on, we clamored for Harris to get into the game. Yet, unlike what happened in Tampa, Jennings responded, in a big way. His throws became more precise, his reads sharper and he took control of the huddle, despite getting little help in the first half. It wasn't the best game of his career, but he dropped a pair of dimes to Dural, put a couple of lasers on Diarse and even had a couple of other nice throws that receivers simply didn't come down with. If Desean Smith, Travis Dickson and Trey Quinn come down with a few different balls, would look a little more respectable.
The biggest thing here is that this is a young offense that needs a vocal leader. I think we all know La'El Collins and Terrence Magee fill that role in some capacity, but having the QB be your leader always seems to take the team to the next dimension. Jennings took a step in that direction in the 2nd half in Houston. Let's hope he continues to build on that.
Harris: Disaster. There's really no other way to describe Harris' first three snaps. Sure he didn't come back because Jennings play upticked, but also because the coaches had to realize he simply was starry-eyed out there. He botched two play calls, burned a T.O. and misread an option play... in three plays. The book is hardly closed on Harris' career, he just needs to respond from his first big failure.
Hilliard: The star of the committee, Hilliard ran as hard as he has since 2011. The weight loss did him good and he looked more explosive and just as powerful as ever. Hilliard's final line looks good on paper, and he's certainly a competent back. That said, he still seems best served to be a change-of-pace hammer rather than this committee's lead back. There were a few runs that looked like they could have been more 10-15 than 6-8 if he cut outside. But that's not his style nor game. Still great to see Kenny looking sharp.
Magee: Largely a non-factor. Made a really nice blitz pick-up on the first completion to Diarse. Magee didn't look quite as explosive as we saw from him at times last year, but his chances were also few and far between and the blocking not strong when he had the chance.
Fournette: The young superstars debut didn't come as sensationally as we all hoped, but it's way, way too early to think there's any legitimate concern here. Firstly, we did see some flashes of that special ability from Fournette. On the opening kickoff he took a strong shot from a player in coverage barreling downhill. The player bounced off his thigh pad and Fournette kept running. We saw the burst on his final kick return, as he pretty easily turned that into 33 yards. His rushes weren't great, but neither too was the blocking with it. There were some chances to get him going in the screen game that were simply missed due to poor throws, which is shame because they were beautifully set up. He also missed a pitch that was a little out in front of him. He'll be fine.
Neighbors: Most of the best runs of the night came without him on the field. Not his most shining performance. He whiffed on several blocks in pass pro and in the run game. He did lay a helluva blow in the 4th quarter on the final meaningful play of the game. Neighbors' play should pick up but LSU's best looks may be without him in 2014.
Dural: Mr. Big Play, he sure seems have a tremendous connection with Jennings on that deep ball. He now has catches of 49 (TD), 80 (TD), 44 and 27 from Jennings. Dural shows a stellar understanding of what to do when Jennings breaks the pocket and scrambles, twice the recipient of long balls on breakdowns. I questioned whether he could be this team's no. 1 but he looks the part of a big play specialist all the way.
Diarse: Non-existent in the 1st half, when LSU shifted into more 3-WR looks, Diarse caught two of the biggest balls of the night, both 3rd down conversions of 7+ yards. Diarse looked sharp as a route runner, caught the ball with his hands well, but really stands out for his RAC, where he almost resembles Josh Reed as a thickly built, tough to bring down target.
Quinn: Not only did Quinn start, I think he played every snap on offense. Talk about being thrown into the mix. Quinn didn't miss a beat. He battled as a blocker, and the staff moved him around formations and sought to get the ball in his hands in creative ways, including once on a reverse, and then moving him across the formation on the 2-point conversion. He's going to be a major factor in this passing game.
Gordon: Looked a little rusty, or still transitioning to heavy zone scheme. I had 6 notes on Gordon, only one of them contained the word "good" the rest "bust" or "miss."
Stokes: Didn't play a ton, but I did see him miss a block.
Dickson: He's seen better days. The fumble cost LSU points and field position when they could least afford it. He had another chance in the passing game but couldn't come down with an admittedly tough catch. And really struggled to block.
Desean: Pittman commented in the other thread, but dropping wide open passes is no way to earn the staff's trust. He can still be a huge part of this offense, but needs to become more reliable.
It's tough to individually grade the OL, because there were a number of mistakes that are tough to pinpoint. Were Wisconsin's shifting front confusing? Were the OL calls off? Dating back to last season, we've struggled with odd-man fronts, not much changed here. It's not as if these guys haven't zone blocked before, but they really struggled to get to the 2nd level and peel off combo blocks the way you need to to spring big runs.
Collins: Played a pretty solid game. It's not the type of game that will get him 1st round money, but typically found a good push in the run game and completely kept the blindside clean for Jennings.
Vadal: The weight loss seems to have helped his movement without negatively affecting his power in the run game. I wouldn't say he's an ideal fit for the Grimes OL, but he's talented enough to make this work. He missed badly on a twist stunt that caused pass pro to break down, and also had a false start where he got a bit too excited to pull. Overall, a solid game, though.
Pocic: Well, you always have to have a first start. Pocic struggled in a lot of ways. He missed several blocks and struggled some at the point of attack. At this point, he's not near the player Porter was in getting to the second level. That said, it's not for lack of athleticism. He just needs to work on his leverage, identifying his blocking targets and locking on. He did have a couple of pancakes and plays with a nasty streak, including continuing to block their NT into the ground near whistle blow, which resulted in the NT's knee injury.
Hoko: Took him a while to show up for me. On one pull play he half-assed it, which irked me. But in the 2nd half, he started delivering some truly dominant blocks and moving people out of the hole, especially on Hilliard's long TD run. Like Vadal, he's a more effective drive blocker, but he's very powerful and should continue to improve.
Hawkins: Kind of like Pocic in that he missed a lot when going hunting on the 2nd level. He also seemed to let people cross his face a lot. He's strong enough to somewhat keep them at bay, but he should be able to dominate guys. It was an okay game, overall.
Offensive Play of the Night
My early thoughts were that we struggled to generate any push up front, but the more the game wore on the more it seemed Chavis likely asked the DL to really focus on holding their positions in the run game to try and clog up the lanes. Now, that's an effective idea when the backers behind you are filling the remaining gaps, but that's not something that happened with consistency in the 1st half. Welter, Kwon, Louis, Debo, and Beckwith all were guilty of missing gaps. Kwon, in particular, played a very poor 1st half. He played better in the 2nd, but surprised to hear Les call him MVP of the game.
Everyone's excited about the secondary, but I'll reserve more judgment until they face anything resembling a challenge. Not only was Wisconsin pass-adverse until desperate, even when they tried they looked woefully unequipped both at QB and WR. Our CBs flanked their best WR targets with ease, and I wouldn't suspect it to look so easy against the Bamas, A&Ms and so forth of the world.
By the second half, the DL held up at the point of attack better and the LBs were filling their gaps strong. Chavis seemed to more heavily emphasize run blitzes in the 2nd half, which really played to Kwon's strengths.
There were a couple of interesting looks I noted, namely shifting to a 4-man line in the Mustang, but the 4th man being Kwon in a 4-point stance, firing into the backfield. He's not powerful at the point of attack, but his speed can be a major asset off the edge, especially for a team that seems to once again lack pass-rushing. We also did a fair amount of keeping either Rasco/Hunter up in a 2-point stance, I'm guessing to cause confusion?
Rasco: The best of the bunch, Rasco looked strong at several moments. He's not going to become the pass rusher we hoped, but he's a strong run defender who plays smart. He got a couple good bullrushes in against a quality RT, but nothing so explosive as to really cause any worry for Wisconsin. He got a pass break-up. His best play of the night was when they left him unblocked on a jet sweep to Gordon. Not sure if they thought he'd run up the field and out of the play or that Gordon could simply beat him, but neither happened and Rasco firmly put Gordon down. Rasco isn't a star, but he's probably a Lavar Edwards caliber player, who plays smart and disciplined. Also, I like that crazy thing he does with the index finger in a circle around his ear after he makes a play.
Hunter: Let's start over from the beginning again. After all the offseason praise, Hunter was hardly a factor vs. Wisconsin. They routinely pushed him around in the running game, and he only had one to two moments of impact in the passing game, which consisted of him flushing McEvoy out of the pocket and nothing more. Hunter needs to elevate his game. This was not a good performance, especially not for a guy that's likely looking at the NFL draft.
Bower: Really impressed with the leverage he plays with. Perhaps Hunter should learn from Bower, who is similarly sized but generates so much more power from his frame. Made multiple notes about the leverage he played with and how he got underneath the pads of the OTs blocking him. There were mistakes, but he looks much improved from a season ago.
Clark: Somewhat surprised to see him in action, but it appears he's our 4th defensive end right now. Clark looked pretty solid. He's got a good first step and had one good bullrush where he got chipped pretty hard and went to the ground. Another bullrush he was completely stalled, but good to see him fight and then try a swim move, even if it didn't work.
Lacouture: Miles seemed to like the game he played better than me. He did okay. Much better as the game wore on, but early on he was getting worn out, as Wisconsin's interior pushed him around the field as they saw fit. He held his ground better as the game wore on. He exhibited absolutely no pass rush. I'm not sure if Chavis wanted the DTs to mush rush due to McEvoy's mobility, but that's typically something we do across the entire front rather than just two guys.
Thomas: The miracle bicep man started and played a ton of reps. I couldn't tell he was injured in any way. Pretty similar to Lacouture. Good effort player, nothing of noteworthy dominance, no pass rush to speak of.
Godchaux: Now here's someone I can get excited about. According to McDonough, Miles compared Godchaux to Glenn Dorsey in prep-interviews. I see it. Godchaux is so widely built without being fat or slobby. He's just a large human being. Most impressive is that he plays with exceptional leverage, nearly always getting under the OL's pads. Even more so, he brings a powerful punch. He sent more than a couple Wisconsin OL tumbling backward off the snap. That's impressive stuff from a true freshman who suffered a serious knee injury less than a year ago. On one play he drove his OL into the hole, spun off of him and nearly got Gordon for a TFL. On another play he stood up his OL, kept his head in the backfield, shucked him off at the right time and made the tackle. He also smoked one double team against him. Is this guy secretly a 5th year senior?
Neal: Played snaps in the first half, but nothing of note, really. He played end in the Mustang on one series. Stood up the OC once. Plays with good leverage as well, just not as powerful as Godchaux.
Welter: For the most part, I thought he looked tremendously improved. That's not to say he's an All-SEC player, but a much more aggressive, stronger version of what we saw last year. There were several occasions where he took on OL and stood them up, rather than getting plowed. He flowed well to the ball, but did run himself out of a couple plays. Played well in coverage for the most part, too. To play that way against a big, rugged OL is a good sign.
Kwon: He was okay. He really didn't do much positive in the first half. Second half, he looked much stronger and made some nice plays, including a TFL of Gordon on the option. Stuck with a WR downfield in coverage, which is what makes him dangerous. Still not very strong at the point of attack. At his best when he's attacking the backfield.
Louis: Pretty quiet. Seemed to be out of position on Wisconsin's first long TD run. He was away from the strong side, and I can't figure out why. Busted coverage on the Mills INT, fortunately Mills made up for it. Played pretty physically. Made a stupid penalty on STs, just a little over aggressive.
Beckwith: Made a couple outstanding plays coming downhill, then busted twice in three plays on coverage. He's still learning, obviously, but it seems to me his pass coverage is what keeps him behind Welter, who did well there.
Debo: Still looks like an aimless missile to me. He gets going in a hurry and looks impressive doing it, but seems to be going nowhere fast a lot. One play he read correctly, crashed hard, then completely whiffed on Gordon.
Riley: Got at least one tackle. Did do much else of note, good or bad.
White: Early in the game, he literally stood there and watched as his teammates tackled the RB. That pissed me off. His coverage looked great, but he got blocked up several times in the run game. Did make one really nice play on a screen where he used his hands to keep a guy from cutting him, stumbled a bit, recovered and made a strong tackle.
Collins: Wowza. Impressive outing. I had my doubts considering his lack of physical play last season, but Collins looked like a completely different player. A couple examples: crashed hard on a run, took on the 245 pound FB, won, came off and tackled the 220 pound RB cleanly by himself. WHO IS THIS MAN? Also tackled Gordon man up in space. Beautiful coverage on a downfield throw, right in the back pocket, got his arm up last minute to knock the ball away. Excellent game, though not tested much in the air.
Thomas: Mostly played Mustang but subbed for Collins late when Collins went down with injury. Looked pretty solid, mostly. Had a good blitz that forced the Martin INT. Made a nice tackle in space of a wide open TE - closed a big gap and stopped him short on a 3rd down. Did lose his lane in STs which lead to a big-ish return.
Mills: He reminds me of Brandon Taylor with a bit more ball skills. The INT was a beautiful play that he read all the way and covered for a teammates mistake. Plays physical and aggressive in the run game. Went stride for stride with a receiver they tried to find deep. All around good game.
Martin: He's okay. We walked him up a bit to play in the box, but he's not that physical being as big as he is. Made the pick on a horrible throw, but lost a few guys in coverage and missed a few tackles. Matter of time before more talented guys beat him out.
Jefferson: Played a fair amount, hard to tell how much since he was typically a deep safety. Nothing stood out good nor bad.
Adams: Got absolutely skull-crushed by Melvin Gordon on a blitz. Welcome to college football, kid. Looked fast out there, though. Plays fearlessly. Made a great play in punt coverage. We played him up near the LOS, which shows the coaches trust his ability to tackle.
Defensive Play of the Night
Keehn: Okay game. 42.5 avg. looks pretty good, but sprinkled in some usual ugly punts. He can boom them, but his inconsistency is frustrating.
Delahoussaye: DelAllAmerican? Geez, this kid can kick. Perfect on the night and nailed a long one.
Domingue: Kicked off once, and that was enough, I guess.
Gamble: Speaking of kids that can kick, I am convinced Cameron Gamble hates footballs so he's determined to kick them all to hell. First KO, we get penalized, no matter, he boots it into the EZ anyhow. Also booted another out the back. Did kick one OOB, but man, many touchbacks are in our future.
White: A could solid returns here and there, but not many chances. Looked quick and decisive.
Fournette: Overall, productive. Take out the 13-yard return and he averaged 26 yards a return, same as OBJ last year. He'll be fine, if not a weapon, back there.